Choosing a study abroad program can be a hard decision for anyone. I went through it myself in 2013 when I decided to look into the experience. I already knew I wanted to go to Northern Ireland– I had family there and had been once before for a brief period. So once the heavy lifting of “where” was done, I really had a handful of study abroad providers and programs to choose from.
“What are you getting for your time, money/financial aid, and degree?”
There are many factors that need to be taking into consideration. While any program you choose will allow for a new, great experience, the most important thing to consider is the worth of the experiences you will have. What is the value of the program? What will you get for your time, money/financial aid, and degree? This comes down to anything from the caliber of the university, to the credits and classes, and especially to everything else that is included in a program fee.
Choosing a university in your host country is as important as deciding on a program. Providers have programs in large capitals, big cities, rural towns and even some along the countryside. Students looking to study abroad should take this into consideration to figure out which type of environment they want to experience, and how much you’re willing to spend for daily life. For example, I attended The Queen’s University in Belfast. It was in a moderately large city (about 500,000 in the metropolitan area) and only a bus ride away from my cousins. The caliber of the school was important to me so I chose to go with a resume-builder and internationally-known university. Choosing a school that is on par with your home university in the U.S. might actually provide a less challenging academic structure than choosing one with more prestige.
The academic offerings themselves are another important aspect of choosing a program. Most majors can go anywhere, especially in a direct-enroll program, where you will be integrated into your overseas university. But it’s always good to check what classes and how many credits you will be able to take abroad, especially when considering upper division credit hours. Ensure that any program you consider has full-time staff available to help navigate the sometimes-confusing shuffle of departments and enrollment restrictions abroad– you came to college to earn a degree and studying abroad should not deter that plan. Also, of course, make sure to talk with your academic advisor and plan classes before going abroad!
“It’s important to look at what the price includes, such as excursions, academic support, and international services.”
Value or Price?
Lastly, and probably most importantly, price is a factor. It would be great if everyone could go abroad without considering this, but, well, that’s simply not the case. The sticker shock is real, y’all. But, that can be confusing as well. If I held out two apples and told you one costs $.50 and the other costs $1.25, and they look exactly the same, which would you pick? The cheap one.
But if I told you only the $1.25 apple was organically grown, non-GMO and it came with a free bottle of water and hoodie, which would you pick? So, it’s important to look at what the price includes, such as excursions, academic support, and international services. For example, my program with IFSA-Butler included tuition (15 credits– that’s important in comparing price), housing on campus, access to a full-time IFSA-Butler office in Dublin for assistance and support, a 4-day student orientation in Belfast, new student orientation at the host university, mid-semester weekend excursions to the Antrim Coast and Dublin, day trips and sightseeing tours, dinners with the advisors, medical and crisis insurance, and access to local medical facilities. A lot of this seems like stuff you would not even consider needing, but I knew that every step of the way, the IFSA staff was there to help guide me and make the experience worth it. I was prepared to pay a bit more for the experience knowing that I would be getting my money’s worth and more.
Choosing a study abroad program is an important decision and it takes time to find the program that will provide you with the most value. Everyone has their own process for making this decision. I remember the time I spent deciding, and if I could go back I know I would make the same decision. No matter where you choose to go, know that it is an experience that should be cherished and utilized in your life. From one student to another, I hope this helped!